Intimacy and Harmony In Our Relationships

May 4, 2023

Welcome back to the conversation around nourishment at the heart level and the different spheres of intimacy. In my previous newsletter, we explored the first two of the four spheres of intimacy: intimacy with self and intimacy with the divine. Today, we will move into a discussion around the remaining two spheres: intimacy in our closest relationships/family and intimacy with our community/culture.

Let’s start with intimacy in our closest relationships, or partnerships, which largely deals with the topic of attachment, or attachment styles. There’s an excellent book called Attached by Amir Levine, which looks at attachment theory, our early upbringing, and our constitutional orientation to life. Essentially, there are three different attachment styles that can develop in our early childhood, based on the relationship models we felt and saw around us. These attachment styles are: anxious, avoidant, and secure. Anxious attachment is often preoccupied with relationships and tends to worry about their partner’s ability to love them back. Avoidant attachment equates intimacy with a loss of independence and constantly tries to minimize closeness. Secure attachment feels comfortable with intimacy, which usually feels warm and loving and can acknowledge tendencies towards anxious or avoidant styles without getting consumed by them.

Attachment theory suggests that these early models of relationship and attachment styles will strongly inform our attachment style as we mature into adulthood. If we’ve had a pretty good upbringing where we were modeled with secure attachment, we would be intimately connected to our partners without over-enmeshment or over-avoidance.

The goal here is to cultivate steadily, over time, an internal experience of secure attachment, where we live in a state of interdependence in our close relationships. But, in reality, most of us frequently live in either avoidant attachment (complete independence) or anxious attachment (codependence). 

I tend to think of the avoidant and anxious attachment styles as two sides of the same coin, or polarities that aren’t necessarily better or worse than one another, just different. They’re polar complements, as equal-facing experiences of intimacy, that don’t necessarily need to be set in stone for the rest of our lives. 

Through awareness, introspection, and relational tools offered in texts like Levine’s Attached, we can identify which attachment style we exhibit the most and then work to release ourselves from certain behavioral and emotional patterns that have kept us locked in that attachment style.

This leads to a level of security in our relationships and often to more fulfilling connections with those we love.

The additional aspect of intimacy in this relational sphere involves intimacy with family, namely how we can connect fully without losing ourselves in the midst of it. How do we honor ourselves, our own needs, and our own expression while honoring the needs and expressions of those most connected to us?

I find boundaries to be of the utmost importance when navigating this particular relational sphere, because our family members tend to press our buttons and test our shadows in the deepest and most triggering ways. The hilarious line (because it’s so darn true) from Ram Dass comes to mind, “If you think you’re enlightened, go spend a week with your family.”

Setting clear boundaries around your own needs, coupled with the honesty of being able to meet your family where they are, can typically allow for a more graceful navigation of these familial dynamics. Again, I just want to reiterate that denying our own needs because of the needs of others, or because it doesn’t feel safe to claim our own needs, is something to keep an eye on. 

Moving outward from our family, we enter the sphere of intimacy with our community and the culture at large. There’s a particular book that I want to highlight here, which is Coming Back To Life by Joanna Macy and Molly Young Brown. Coming Back To Life is about becoming intimate with the entire world, through the experience of what they describe as dependent co-arising.

Dependent co-arising is a Buddhist term which means that we are all immeasurably interwoven within the whole. You can’t separate the individual from the whole. There is no isolated individual. We’re all completely interwoven into this fabric of humanity with astounding beauty and complexity.

Not only are we inextricably connected to other humans, but we are collectively remembering how necessary it is to feel connected to our natural environment. If we are going to live a more integrated life, we can’t deny our relationship with the environment. Joanna Macy really codified this kind of orientation into a field of psychology called ecopsychology or ecotherapy, with the understanding that restoring our connection to nature and the pace of the natural world can provide profound and deep healing.

Keeping this perspective of dependent co-arising or “Interbeing,” we can zoom out to examine how our culture relates to other cultures. Are we relating harmoniously with other cultures? This seems to be what the United Nations is trying to do: establish and maintain a codified system that creates harmony among all nations and cultures.

In the past, we may have described this in terms of tribes or smaller bands of societies, rather than as large nations and transnational cultures, but in 2023 we live in a more global community. There’s less demarcation between myself, my family, my community, and the rest of the world.

With all of the above, I wanted to give some framing and reference to the conversation of intimacy as it relates to this larger theme of the four dialogues of body, mind, heart, and soul.

In each individual and collective conversation, we can ask ourselves, “What are we committing to?” Considering all the pressures of the world, are we making sure that we commit to ourselves and put our oxygen mask on first? What are we committing to that is in service to our own body, mind, heart, or soul?

I encourage you to take some time to really ponder these spheres of intimacy and be radically honest with yourself when asking these questions. In the coming newsletters, we will dive into how to nourish the mind and body, the two remaining aspects of self.


To your health, 

Dr. Dan


Get healthy. Stay present. Help out.

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